Key was keeping Wayde injury-free
Wayde van Niekerk’s coach, Ans Botha, says she wasn’t surprised by the 43.03sec world record he set winning the Olympic 400m gold at the Rio Games.
“We were preparing,” the 74-year-old said at the Athlete’s Village the day after her charge’s spectacular victory on Sunday night.
Botha and Van Niekerk have a full few days of media interviews – the price of success, not that they were complaining.
“We worked on specific times. We realised this year the pressure would be so much more if we wanted this medal . . .
“It didn’t surprise me,” the former Namibia-based Botha said. She coached Frankie Fredericks as a schoolboy in Windhoek before he went to the US on scholarship.
Botha, awaiting her fifth great-grandchild to be born, didn’t think the result or time would have been any different if Van Niekerk had run in another lane instead of the outside one that he did.
“I really think it would have been the same,” she said. “Our goal was to run the split times we were training.”
Van Niekerk went 10.7sec over the first 100m, 9.8 over the second, 10.5 in the third and 12.0 in the fourth.
He was faster over the first 300m of that race, by three-hundredths of a second, than he was running the African 300m record over that distance in Jamaica two months ago.
Botha gave Van Niekerk his strategy long before the final was run, offering only a little advice just before the race.
“Wayde and I always discuss where we’re going when we’re training.
“The last 10 days we did all our talking . . . Just before [the final] I told him to dictate the race from out of lane eight, you don’t want them to dictate the race to you.”
Van Niekerk said he had experienced a niggle in his hamstring during the heats and semifinals, but she said she wasn’t concerned. “It was just a stiffness.”
Botha had known him since he was predominantly a high-jumper at school, years before he joined her in October 2012.
“I knew he had outstanding talent, and I knew with careful handling and coaching he could become a world-class athlete.”
Van Niekerk was a 100m and 200m sprinter at that stage, having switched from the high jump after qualifying for the world under-20 championships in 2010, where he finished fourth in the 200m. But he was injury prone. Botha pulled him away from the shorter sprints to focus on the 400m, insisting that the explosive power required for the 100m, and a little less so for the 200m, was causing the problem.
When Van Niekerk started making his mark in 2014 by winning the Commonwealth Games silver medal and breaking the SA record, she said it was the result of keeping him injury free.
“Wayde is not a really strong-build person,” Botha said when asked if Van Niekerk might return to the shorter sprints, especially the 100m
“I’m still working very hard at building him up to that.”
Van Niekerk, now the first South African to hold world and Olympic titles in the same event simultaneously, has the world at his feet.
But Botha said her advice to him would be to stay humble and thankful for his blessings and talent.